Parenting

parenting 1

Being a parent is such a challenging thing.

That was the understatement of the year, right? I mean, sure, it has big rewards, but not without significant cost and I, personally, was not prepared for the cost.

For those who may not be aware, nearly 20 years ago, I prayed that God would bring me a husband and children….but I wasn’t specific enough and God, having the sense of humor that He does, blessed me with both at once.

Ok. Maybe that was just my making a choice and not really listening all that well, but regardless I married a man with 3 boys who all lived with us full time for the entirety of our marriage (in hindsight, there are times I truly wonder how much of a blessing the marriage itself was, but that’s a topic for another day) and while I truly do love these boys as much as I possibly can, there are times that wonder how in heavens name they turned out the way they did and I somehow managed not to just beat them upside the head with a 2×4 to knock some sense into them.

I’m kidding, of course. I would never hurt any of them, but I can honestly state that only children have the unique ability to cause such exquisite pain that I find myself wondering if it would be less painful to inflict myself with a million paper cuts and pour fresh salt and lemon juice in them for an hour.

What makes me think about such lovely thoughts on such a pretty summer day? Well as I sit here I am reflecting on the struggles my youngest is experiencing and creating.

He is a wonderful, tender-hearted kid who suffers from pretty severe ADHD and depression. These two things have been a tremendous challenge for him as he tries both positive and negative means to control the impulses and depression that drive him, make him feel like he’s crawling out of his own skin and keep him longing for some unknown source of happiness and peace e has yet to find.

And therein lays the root of the struggle he is currently experiencing.

At this time, he is choosing to act on some things that have the potential to have lasting effects on his personal relationships and lifestyle. Despite how much he tries, he typically sets himself up to fail and cannot force him to make better choices, act more responsibly, or choose not to have instant gratification in a given situation.

I love him dearly and want to be able to do whatever I can for him, but as I look at the life he is leading at the ripe old age of 26, my heart breaks for these choices because it feels to me that they continue to distance him from the life I had believe God wants him to live.

And then I remember that God is God, not me.

Only God knows what His plan is for the son that is currently struggling or the other two, for that matter.

Only God knows what His plan is for any of us and I can virtually guarantee that His plan doesn’t match the one we have in our heads.

We all want our kids all to be happy, healthy, successful, and overall the very best people they can possibly be. But God’s plan is bigger than our mortal minds can comprehend and because of that, not all of our children (let alone each of us) will have the opportunity to live the lives we desperately long for them to lead. As a matter of fact, some of us and some of our kids are going to end up doing some pretty awful things and make some really terrible decisions and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.

And each of these actions fit perfectly into God’s plan.

gods-timing-not-mine-gods-will-not-mine-gods-plan-15628015And that feels more than a little unfair.

Why is it that God places these tiny beings in our live, grow, love and develop into unique, amazing people only to have send this wonderful little human in a direction so far from what we had envisioned and thought He had promised?

Weren’t we the ones that spent sleepless nights nursing them through illnesses or laboring for endless hours at the kitchen table on one homework project after another? Weren’t we the ones championing them on through sports activities, relationship woes, and decisions that either were or at least felt life altering? Of course we were…

…and so was God.

As painful as it has been for me to realize, I have come to understand that for every moment I have spent worrying about my kids – this one perhaps a little more than the others – God has watched him go through it twice; once when He created Him and saw the life He created laid out before Him and the second time, as He witnessed this child actually make the expected errors.

And here’s the particularly difficult part.

The fact is that because God created this boy just the way he is and knew exactly what choices he would make as he walked through this life means that God blessed this life as it was. Not some better version of it or some idealistic view of what my sons’ life could be, but just as it is, warts and all.

And, as the Bible said, it was good.

Ok. You’re right.

The Bible didn’t say that about my child specifically, but in my view, that is in fact what God said about all of our children because God is a perfect God. He is all knowing and all loving and because he is God, He doesn’t make mistakes nor change His mind.  So following this logic, the decisions my son is making are working together for God’s plan for him and those he will influence and it will turn out just the way God intended. My job, as his stepmother and as a faithful believer in God, is to trust His will is perfect, even if it’s not what I want.

New parenting quotes for hard times 10 Inspirational Quotes The Day 479
New parenting quotes for hard times 10 Inspirational Quotes The Day 479

God is not nor will He ever be a vending machine for our wishes. And much as we want to think otherwise, this world and all that is in it doesn’t really revolve around each of us individually. In all honestly, this little tidbit has really been eating at me these past few months as I listen to people talk about how God has done x,y, and z for them because He loves them. Why does that bother me? Because those statements make our faith in God about us not about Him. And these little sentences are the gateways to failures in faith because when things go awry, we can’t believe that the same God who has done all of these things for us individually would think to do something that doesn’t make us happy.

From my little corner of the world, this is one of the reasons Christians fall away from their faith and those we want to lead to the faith do not follow. What they see is when we pray for something specific and it doesn’t come true, it must mean that God is not all loving or that there is something inherently unloving about me.

And this is entirely incorrect,

The plan God has created is better than the one we have in our heads and this plan means we will not have everything we want nor will our lives be what we think they be or maybe what we think we (or other people) deserve. Our lives will only be perfect in the perspective of the truly perfect, loving God.

So as parents, aunts, uncles, and all other family members and friends, we are called to sit back and watch as those we love make stupid mistakes and love them anyway. We cry out in pain as those we love are unjustly treated or even killed and we must trust that our loving, omnipotent God is still in control and despite how much it hurts or angers us, He is still perfect.

48410-billy-graham-quote-3.1200w.tnAnd if, by chance, you are in a similar situation as I am and you are angrily reading this thinking clearly I don’t understand the pain you are currently enduring and could not possibly know what you have and are going to have to deal with, you are right.  I am not for the most infinitesimal moments suggesting that I do…

…but God does.

Just look at the cross.

 

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The vulnerability conversation

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http://consciousmagazine.co/many-tenets-wholeheartedness-core-vulnerability-worthiness/

I was recently preparing to lead a book discussion on the topic of vulnerability. Being vulnerable is a challenging thing. In many ways, we are often taught that to be vulnerable means to be weak which his quite literally the opposite of what being vulnerable truly is. In order to be vulnerable, one must expose the soft underbelly of their soul for others to see. In many ways, being vulnerable is the strongest thing we can do as humans and as Christians. While I was doing my research for the lesson I found a number of wonderful devotions, articles and videos on the topic leading me to understand that this is a topic that we all struggle with on many levels.

The book discussion made me reflect on the fact that I have often been asked how I am able to be so vulnerable in my writings and have to confess that the question takes me by surprise. When I write, I rarely consider the idea of being or not being vulnerable. As a writer, actor or musician (all things I dabble in to one extent or another), vulnerability must be part of what is offered. If I am not open and honest, exposing myself emotionally in my art, how can I expect to touch those receive my artistic offering? So I write, I sing, I act…offering myself to various audiences in hopes that what I have placed in front of them is a blessing in some form or fashion.

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https://everydaypowerblog.com/brene-brown-quotes/

I am a very open person, willing to discuss very difficult topics and open my old wounds should that action be able to help others…and yet as I reflect on the things I have opened up about, there are many things I am less willing – or not willing –  to express in any way. What makes the difference? Well, for one thing, we as a society have developed a more compassionate skin about some things more than others. There are some items that were previously taboo for discussion that now, when discussed or exposed, are things that others are able to be empathetic and supportive about rather than judgmental. For example, things like the #metoo movement make having been harassed almost like being a member of a club – something that bonds people like me to one another providing support and understanding where previously there may been none.

But then there are the other things.

These are the things that, when I awaken in the middle of the night, get my mind wound up and keep me from sleeping through the night; the things that have shaped me enough to know they have made an impact in who I am and how I relate to the world around me and I am unable to keep from wondering if I would be as acceptable to those around me should those little items be exposed for general knowledge.

It’s not that I’ve done anything horrific. To be honest, all of the things that I hide behind the “non-public” side of my wall of vulnerability are things that I would easily forgive in others but for me, they feel unacceptable; unforgiveable. Some are embarrassing, some are hard lessons that caused growth and change, but nothing is really more than that. So why am I so unable to share these things?

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https://quotefancy.com/quote/914506/T-S-Eliot-Survival-is-your-strength-not-your-shame

Shame is, of course, is the anchor that locks those things in my heart and mind. It has this uncanny ability to magnify actions and words making them out to be gigantic monsters in my life rather than the itty bitty dust bunnies they probably are. I’m sure you are all familiar with how that works. Something happens – big or small – and suddenly you’re not able to face the people that witnessed the action or your relationships are forever altered (at least in your mind) because of that action. What makes it worse, at least for me, is that whenever that little event is mentioned by someone trying to offer grace and compassion about it, all I can do is beat myself up just a little more about it.

But shame is also not the only reason for my two-faced vulnerability wall.

The other reason is the way others respond to vulnerability.

You see, when someone tells a story that is challenging or difficult, it is the start of a conversation and stories that are vulnerable in nature often makes those who are listening feel anxious or uncomfortable. We all want to say that our first reaction to such a story would be one of compassion and love, but I would suggest that more often than not, our first reaction is to wonder how they got themselves into that situation in the first place or wonder how they could have done “x” and then, depending on the situation, the most common responses are to either judge the individual for the action to which they confessed or try to find a way to “fix” the problem. Now those initial reactions can be hidden from view in if they take place via social media, but in person, that is not the case.

In person, the individual who has courageously decided to take that step and tell their story sees the entire emotional response play out across the faces of those listening even if nothing is actually said. They see the shock, the anger, the disbelief, the judgment. It plays out right in front of them and suddenly a new level of strength is needed – strength to deal with the repercussions of openness. And unfortunately in my life, and I’m sure many of yours as well, when I have been able to be strong enough to be vulnerable about a situation or action, the response has been anything but supportive. The “why would you ever” statements are almost equally balanced with the “if you would have only done this…”, statements that lead me to feel that I have failed not only for being in whatever situation I had spoken of, but not being smart enough or tough enough or quick enough to respond the way others feel I should.

The thing is that I don’t share my stories to have someone try to “fix” me or to create a situation where I can be humiliated again due to the judgment of others. I choose to be vulnerable to open the doors to things that are painful in life and let others know they are not alone in their suffering. But despite this desire, I have realized that there are things others are not ready to hear; not ready to be forced to come to terms with in others. For this reason, I have created my dual-sided vulnerability wall because in the end, I am not trying to make others uncomfortable, but to invite healing both for myself and for others. If my choosing to be vulnerable about an event in my life creates more strife for both me and the people hearing it, I am not doing what I set out to do.

So is there a point to all of this ranting? You will be happy to know that yes, there is…and here it is.

EmilysQuotes.Com-Elbert-Hubbard-understanding-silence-words-communication-relationship
http://emilysquotes.com/he-who-does-not-understand-your-silence-will-probably-not-understand-your-words/

Vulnerability is a two-way street and it requires equal amounts of risk from both sides. It requires the storyteller to expose those tender places in their hearts and souls and it requires the listener to graciously accept this offering for what it is – a show of strength and healing – and not try to judge or fix it. Additionally, it requires that the person opening their heart do so after significant prayer and discernment to ensure that what is being exposed doesn’t place an unusually heavy burden on those who will listen. Finally, it requires that both parties – the giver and the receiver – be gracious toward one another recognizing the difficulty of the situation on both sides of the coin.  It is here at this place of graciousness that we can truly express the love of God and be the reflection of His mercy and grace rather than a reflection of the ugliness that surrounds us all.
 

Threads

threadsI was blessed recently to share a portion of my story (I say a portion because honestly, whose entire story can fit neatly into a 3-minute time slot?) at my church and I was overwhelmed by the number of people that approached me afterwards to hug me, encourage me, or share a bit of their own story with me. The more I’ve thought about the experience, the more amazed I am about how God weaves us all together into the same tapestry.

As I may have said here before, I truly feel that each of us is a thread in God’s tapestry. Some of our threads are long, some short, but all of our threads have a purpose. Each one of our threads adds not only strength and support, but perhaps more importantly, color and beauty to the image that God is creating. And God does indeed create beauty in all things, through all things.

What’s hard to remember is that what makes something beautiful isn’t perfection. I mean, I know that we look at the super models and such in magazines and see them as “perfect”, but even those who we believe to be the most beautiful have something that mars the “perfection” – a beauty mark, a small crookedness to their smile or some other small flaw that make them unique; special.

Similarly, each of us has places in our lives that are broken; fractured by the storms we have encountered. As you heard in my story, I have plenty of these imperfections, but God has been able to make those places of brokenness part of my unique beauty and He does this by weaving into my life other uniquely beautiful people that have threads which are strong in the places that mine is weak. My job as a person of faith is are to be willing to embrace the people that God allows to cross my path.

Sure, that sounds easy, but its only easy if everyone that is woven into my life makes me happier and more fulfilled. But the reality is that God’s creation is full of people and events that are or have been negative influences in my life – people that have treated me badly, abused me or have been conduits to allow bad things to happen. It’s often difficult to digest, but each of these negative people are as important as the positive people because each of their threads has also been woven into my life for a reason.

One of the reasons He has done this, I have come to understand, is that God needed that person to provide disruption; to shake up the status quo of my life and help me focus on what is truly important – Him.

This is more than little uncomfortable and outside of the scope of what I – or I suspect you – would choose, but then God, being God, knows that if we reside in the status quo for too long, this is where we – or at least I – become stagnant. Sameness is easy. It doesn’t take courage, it doesn’t take strength, and it most certainly doesn’t take faith.

And that’s why God doesn’t allow it in our life for any significant length of time.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was listening to a favorite song of mine called Stars and the Moon. If you have never heard it, I encourage you to search YouTube for it. In this song, the singer speaks of the men who had courted her – the poor dreamers and travelers who had nothing but yearnings and desires bigger than money and fame. They dreamt of being able to give the woman they loved things that would nourish her heart and soul but all she could see was the material things that money and security could buy.

In the end, this woman chose stability and wealth but found that this life meant having a life of stagnation; of never needing to reach for something or seeing something bigger than herself and wanting to strive for it. The magic of imagination and fantasy became a distant memory.

I don’t know about you, but even in the darkest times of my life, I have had dreams and desires. I may not have believed that I could achieve the things that I dreamt of, but I still had the yearnings in my heart. To me, those yearnings are the pieces of God in my heart reminding me that there are greater things for me than what I can see. Those dreams that may seem unreachable – and maybe even are – are the threads of my life that create color and texture. These things are often the bumps in my life that that make my contribution to Gods tapestry exactly what He intended it to be. These are the things I used to hide from others for fear of being judged but I now realize are the very things that make me the uniquely beautiful person I am and despite the pain that these things have often brought to me, I honestly would rather have experienced them than not because it is these things that make me see the beauty that is God.

The Idea of Christmas

blue-christmas-balls-1448214910psqI love the idea of Christmas. The lights, the beautifully decorated homes, the snow gently falling and covering the remaining leaves and grass that has lost its color from the summer leaving a beautiful, crisp whiteness to the world and creating a picture of mystery and expectation. The “joy of the season” is something I ache for, but for me – and for many – the parties, the constant reminders of others happiness like wedding engagements, anniversaries and new babies, and the overall excitement of the Christmas season does nothing more than drive home the fact that those things are not my/our reality.

I’m Christian – this time of year is supposed to be full of wonder, miracles and joy if for no other reason than it’s the time we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. But aside from the time that I get to sing some truly amazing music, those feelings often escape me.

I have thought long and hard about why I struggle so mightily at Christmas. Maybe it’s because my birthday is close to the holiday that my birthday celebrations often get lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s because growing up in an alcoholic home, celebrations often became times filled with anger and fear and I am left with residual anxiety of what may come. Or maybe it’s because of the commercialism that has overtaken the true meaning of the season.

I think in all honestly, at least for me, it is all of these things that combine to make me feel sad, lost and alone with an overall sensation of not being “enough”. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either.

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Social media and neighborhoods alike capitalize on the race for the most grandiose or outlandish décor. Regardless of how beautiful someone’s home may be, whatever was done last year isn’t “enough”. Similarly, party planners struggle to find more unique and spectacular holiday celebrations in an attempt to outdo last years’ events because, for whatever reason, that last party wasn’t “enough”. And gifts? Forget it. Commercial after commercial shout about how we don’t have enough or we are “not enough” without this new car or that new wardrobe or some other new home. We as individuals are never enough without that next big thing.

What makes me feel even sadder is that this same message is often proclaimed just as loudly in the church as it is outside of it. In the one place that I want desperately to feel whole I am reminded time and again that I – just as I am – am not enough.

Ok. I can practically hear you screaming at me through the computer screen now. That’s not what the church says! That’s not what being Christian is about! And while I would agree that this is not what being Christian is about, I would have to say that we, as a body, often talk out of both sides of our mouths on this matter.

On the one side, we say that each and every one of us is precious to God; that He created us each to be unique and beautiful in our own ways. We proudly proclaim, “God loves you!” to anyone who is alone or hurting, encouraging these individuals to remember they aren’t alone; they haven’t been forgotten or abandoned and that they can come just as they are to receive His love, mercy and grace. We seek ways to include everyone in the message of Christmas and send packages all around the globe to ensure nobody feels forgotten at this special time of year. This is all wonderful, but there is another side to this.

The other side is where we as the church perpetuate the commercialism of Christmas by worrying more about whether children have presents under their tree than if they know what the true meaning of Christmas is or worry more about the musical or theatrical spectacle our church is able to present because the church down the street is doing something really grand this year and we want to make sure that what we are is going to be “enough”. Most importantly, to me at least, we are told that despite this lovely season, we as individuals are and will always be sinners, unclean and unworthy.

In other words, not enough.

To me, this message echoes what I have been told from those outside of the church – I can come in, but regardless of what I do or how hard I try, I will never be “enough”; I will never be pretty enough, talented enough, intelligent enough, desirable enough, faith-filled enough, or a good enough Christian. And all of this seems to be magnified during the holiday season as image after image in my mind and around me seem to reflect what I perceive to be others successes. I am left feeling beaten down; defeated.

By now you’re probably wondering just what the point of this article is. Am I doing my best to make you feel as depressed as I sound?vhq8l

Actually, no.

Here’s the thing.

Being sad during the holidays is not something to be ashamed of. It is a reality that many of us face for a wide variety of reasons. Just do a quick Google search on “Christmas sadness” and you will see just how widespread this problem is. Maybe this is a new thing for you or maybe, like me, you struggle a bit every year. Regardless, it is important to know that despite how it may feel, our feelings are not “wrong”. We are not alone and we do not need to cover up our struggle and pretend all is well. Most importantly, we are – all of us – truly “enough” just the way we are even when we don’t feel this is the case.

We do not need to search for that new person, item, job or experience to be “enough”. What makes us “enough” is the real joy of the season – that our Savior was born not to free us from being who we are, but rather born to fill us with a greater understanding of who (and whose) we are and how great that is.

We are each unique individuals created by God to be just who we are. God does not make mistakes and doesn’t compare the way each of us walk through this life hoping and wishing we would be just like our “better” brothers and sisters. Certainly, God created us to experience joy but He didn’t build a specific “Christmas joy” emotion that is either broken or forgotten in those of us that don’t experience this the way we think we should. Instead, He created grace, love and understanding to help us move through these difficult times and help others along the way.

Throughout the years, I have gathered some methods to cope with the “Christmas Blues”. Here are just a few:

  • Set realistic expectations: None of our Christmas celebrations are going to look or feel like a Hallmark movie. Do your best not to go into a situation hoping that this one time it will all live up to the movie in your head.
  • Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside: Remember that we all have masks we put on in public. None of us has any idea what is going on inside someone else at any given moment and just because someone looks like they are having the time of their life doesn’t mean that’s their reality any better than yours.
  • Don’t isolate: It is easy to hide from others when we feel depressed but that isolation only contributes to the feelings of sadness. Do your best to reach out to those around you and, more importantly, be willing to accept their love and care.
  • Attend a Blue Christmas or similar healing service: Many churches offer a “blue Christmas” service which is an opportunity to, through music, prayer and meditation, come for healing and comfort for those struggling during the holiday season. These services are often non-denominational and very easy services to attend regardless of where you are in your faith walk.
  • Be the imperfect perfection you are: None of us is perfect and regardless of how hard you try, this season will not be perfect either. Relax into the imperfection that is being human and living life.6031-christmas-messages

As we enter full force into this Christmas season, I wish you all joy, hope and peace. Mayyou sense God’s presence, know you are His and, despite what the world may indicate, you are truly “enough”. You are enough because God chose to create you. Period.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

God’s Time

g2oriziIt could be my age, but it seems like time is flying more and more quickly these days. It seems like just a moment ago, it was Memorial Day and now the kids are back to school, Labor Day weekend is just a few days away, and the days are getting shorter and cooler. I saw an image on Facebook the other day that said Christmas is only 125 days away. CHRISTMAS, people! Oh, my goodness!!

It’s not just the seasons that are passing by so quickly. Just a year ago, I was struggling with financial challenges and the physical and mental stress that was caused from both my unemployment and the decompression that occurred after working under such tremendous stress for months on end. Thanks to diligent prayer warriors who spoke loudly and clearly to God, I was led to a wonderful job and shortly thereafter, housing that was more affordable and have now been recruited for an opportunity that is, at least on paper, better than anything I could have imagined for myself.

It’s funny how God works, isn’t it? His plan and timing are always perfect and sometimes I have been lucky enough to actually see how the plan has come together.4f723e1f1ce79500f8d579157a2db489-god-is-good-the-good

And then there are the other times.

The times I have prayed for God’s direction and really believed that I have acted in response to that direction only to see the pieces of my life crumbling before me. I have cried out to God in these times, aching for relief from the pain that plagued me only to hear God say to stay the course, or worse, say nothing at all. Did I follow the wrong plan? Does God not really love me after all?

Though I cannot claim to know for certain, I have come to believe that it is at times like that that true faith comes into play. Not during the good times, when His gracious hand is easy to see, but in the times of disaster when everything I had was destroyed and I am left vacant and alone. It is at these times when I hearken back to Rick Warren’s opening sentence to The Purpose Driven Lifeit’s not about [me].

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I have spent my entire Christian walk learning to think of Jesus as our Brother, striving for that personal connection with God that only comes with prayer and time with His Word and being told over and over that God loves me and wants only the very best for me – but how can it be that the very best for me isn’t really about me? I mean, honestly, isn’t my being happy or at least at content about me? Isn’t my ability to make ends meet and live the life I believe God has been directing me to lead about me?

Oddly, the answer is no.

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Kind of depressing, isn’t it?

Well, sure, it can seem that way, and yet, as soon as I can take myself and my selfish desires out of the equation, it suddenly becomes so much easier to see God’s work and rejoice in the glory that is God.

For me, being faithful and trusting in God and His will for me requires that I stop trying to see His plan in a linear format. God’s plan is not linear – it doesn’t move from moment to moment, day to day as my life and perspective does. He is beyond time and space, so big that all things are both already done and being done continually. He created everything as He knew it should be and still placed me in a world where I can make choices about my own life each and every day while His mighty hand moves to still the ripples I create in His plan by my actions. It is both enormously complex and elegantly simple and I am blessed to be a part of it.

But it certainly doesn’t always feel that way.

On those days when I’ve had to watch a loved one die despite fervent prayer, sit back and watch as someone I love makes a choice that will be painful and challenging for them, or when a marriage I worked so hard to save disintegrates despite my efforts to be a good Christian wife, I am left feeling empty and confused, questioning whether I didn’t pray hard enough or if what I truly believed to have been God’s plan for me wasn’t. I question my faith, my ability to discern His voice in my life, and His love for me.

And then I remember. Much as I want my life to be about me, it isn’t. God’s voice and direction in my life serve a greater purpose and I may not ever truly know what that purpose is. My job in this relationship is to simply trust and walk the path He creates. It’s not easy and even when I have made choices I knew were the ones God wanted me to make, I certainly wasn’t saved from suffering as a result. But then, how can I expect not to suffer for God’s direction when Noah, Moses, the disciples and Jesus all suffered to do His will?  It is both humbling and a little embarrassing to even consider that I have asked God to let me forego suffering given what has been done so I can even have this life but I guess that’s the arrogance of a human, right?

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So, what’s the point? Overall, I really want to encourage each and every one of you that despite how we perceive the goodness and love of God, His will is always perfect and His love for us is always genuine. In those dark times when this just doesn’t seem to be the case, remember that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that God placed in your life to walk though challenging times with you. Of course, I know that sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anyone out there – and perhaps you are in a time where there truly isn’t anyone. If this is the case and/or you are lacking the words to pray for discernment and wisdom, I offer these words of prayer. May they be a blessing to you now and in the future.

Heavenly Father, I admit that in times of struggle and challenge, I too often I desire my will above yours. Lord, forgive me for my selfishness and unbelief as I react to this unclear season of life. Jesus, as you yourself desired not your own will but the Father’s will, so let me seek your will for me in boldness and humility. Regardless of direction you have chosen for my life, equip me to truly believe that you are good, you are sovereign, and are a Father who desires only the best blessings for me. Open my eyes to see that what you see as a blessing may not be mirrored in how I perceive it. Lord, by praying “your will be done,” I surrender in trust and obedience.

 

 

Breadcrumbs

trail-of-breadcrumbs1Once upon a time, there was a little girl who, like Hansel and Gretel (and, as Stephen Sondheim pointed out, really all of the famous fairy tale characters), was lost in a wood. It was a dark, dank and bleak place and she longed to find her way home. Had things gone the way she had planned, she would already have been home but instead, she found herself sitting on the damp ground trying to figure out just what had gone wrong.

It was her own fault, really.

Sure, she had started out on this little excursion with her eyes and heart fully open and aware of potential risks, but she was excited for the new possibilities that awaited her. Being a girl who had read a seen a lot and knew that things didn’t always work out, she also took necessary precautions should things go awry. This was, after all, a new path – a new direction – so it was possible she could get lost along the way so she filled her pockets with bits of bread to drop along the path believing these would lead her back to where she started.

In hindsight, the outcome was pretty predictable. I mean, it was bread crumbs, for goodness sake! What was she thinking?

As you would expect, what didn’t get carried away in the wind was quickly gobbled up by birds and squirrels or maybe hidden away in nearby trees for later consumption and by the time she realized this was the case, she was completely unable to even begin determining which direction would take her back to where she started. The starting point, though not necessarily perfect, was at least familiar and would put her in a place to feel re-grounded and able to make a new plan.

What the little girl didn’t realize is that even if her breadcrumbs had remained and she couldn’t have followed the same path back the way she had originally come because the home she had left would not have been the same. Nothing is once we leave and come back.

I know that by now you have all figured out this little story is about me. I am the little girl lost in the woods and what has put me here is my oh-so-wise decision recently to dive head first back into the dating world right after making the major life change of moving into a new house with 4 other people.

I know. Probably not my wisest decision and I know you will be shocked to hear the relationship didn’t pan out.

Perhaps it was a timing thing. We probably couldn’t have started the relationship at a worse time for his business and I certainly was going through changes in my life, but regardless of the reasons, the chapter closed all too soon and here I was, left in the middle of the wood.

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe things with the relationship turned out the way they did because I had left the breadcrumbs to find my way. Would the outcome have been different if I hadn’t tried to give myself an “escape”?

While it is in my nature to try to assume responsibility for just about anything that goes wrong, I would have to say that in this case, regardless of my attempt to make the relationship failure all about things I did or didn’t do, I realized that the breadcrumbs were far from the end of the relationship. They were, in fact, a gift much like the seeds that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 13.

Now I realize those of you theologians out there are balking, screaming at the screen that the purpose of that message wasn’t about my personal love life but about the planting of seeds of faith and the subsequent harvest of believers. I get that. I really do. But as I listened to a sermon on this passage recently I felt God telling me there was an additional meaning much closer to my heart and circumstance.

As I listened, God spoke to my heart telling me that those breadcrumbs I left for myself were never to have been used to find my way back to where I had been because I was no longer the same person I had been when I started the journey even though the journey itself was relatively short.

The crumbs, you see, were really just little pieces of myself – good and bad – that were left on the trail. They were memories, feelings and expressions that I was able to unbury from my heart and leave behind, no longer needed for my journey.

Of course, I didn’t get this for a while. I can be stubborn and obstinate (no comments from the peanut gallery on that, please). For days – even weeks – I found myself trying to find those pieces and seeking desperately for ways to gather every little crumb back up and allow it be part of me gain. Even as I type this, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but how many times have we tried to keep everything just as it is because even though we know it’s not healthy, at least it’s comfortable?

But God didn’t allow that for me this time. I had grown and shed those things and God was going to ensure that those things were carried away further away from the deeper into the wood I went. That journey into the woods was a call from God to follow Him and grow and, as we all know, growth comes at a cost. We do not find new mountaintops of faith nor new joys in life without some pain.

And this process was indeed painful, but as painful as it was, God knew I was ready. The crumbs I had left behind were no longer useful to protect me or define me and with God’s grace, they may perhaps land in new, more fertile ground where they could one day become part of a testimony or ministry that is associated with me but not part of me.

Advanced Directive Panic

AloneBlocksforWebThere is nothing like sitting through an explanation of Advanced Directives and then staring at the document itself in an attempt to complete it with the name or names of those who should be contacted should my life be suddenly and irrevocably put at risk to drive home the realities of both my own fragile mortality and my current single-hood and parental status.

Let me back up a bit and provide a little explanation of this little form for those of you who may not be familiar.

An Advanced Directive is a document that provides health care facilities guidance about whether you would wish to be provided life-sustaining procedures or artificial nutrition and hydration should you be faced with a terminal condition or “persistent vegetative state”.

Yep, it’s a cheery little topic, isn’t it? Well, we spent several days holding in person training and discussions about this form over the past week or so in my office. I am part of the administrative team that puts these things together for my office so I get to participate many times (aren’t I lucky?). It is a very important document and being that I work with a healthcare facility, it is something that our employees deal with every day. We are all too well aware of the importance of having an Advanced Directive in place when things for a patient are truly about as bad as they can be.

So why do I bring up such a delightful topic of conversation on what is otherwise most likely a beautiful Colorado summer day?

Well, here’s the thing. While I understand the need for this type of documentation, as a single person, it does a number on my heart and mind. When faced with this form as well as the idea of a will, I am suddenly keenly aware that it is just me. No kids, no spouse. Just me. Oh, sure, if I had things that were worth giving away in a will, I could find friends and relatives to give them to, but when it comes to life and death, to whom do I turn to make decisions that honor both who I am and where my faith is? It is a decision that is certainly not something to be taken lightly and one which has made me look closely at my life’s decisions.04-lonliness-passionate.jpg

As I’ve said a number of times before, I am, for the most part, a happy single person. I have done the marriage thing – twice – and failed miserably both times so this has been a clear choice for me for that past 10 years and I am glad of that choice.

Single-hood has many pluses. For example, as a single person, I am able to control a good deal of the stress that is in my life which is important for my mental, spiritual and physical health. I don’t have to worry about when I come and go, what I have for dinner, or worry about someone thinking it’s odd that I want to make my dog the center of my social world (ok, maybe this is a little odd, but I’m allowed an oddity or two, aren’t I?).

But as I sat in the Advanced Directive course, I suddenly realized just how alone that choice for single-hood has made me.

If I were to have a severe accident, who in my life would be able to make that life or death decision on my behalf? Sure, the Advanced Directive is supposed to alleviate the “in the moment” crisis, but someone has to sign as my medical power of attorney. Who knows me well enough to know what I would want or need? Now, I know that the immediate response is my family, right? I mean, my dad is still alive as is my stepmother, my sister and my brother. But the reality is that though they are a part of my life, they don’t really know me all that well. My parents have moved out-of-state as has my sister and even though we call and email occasionally, we all live – and always have lived – very different lives. My brother doesn’t live far from me but the relationship with him is very much the same. I don’t begrudge any of them the state of our relationships – they are what they are for reasons far too complex to try to delve into here – but it certainly gave me pause staring at that legal document. And all of this was driven that much further home for me during a recent sermon on Matthew 10:34-39.

You see, much of what is different between my family members and I is faith. While my parents and siblings would likely profess to being Christian, the idea of being involved in church, studying the Word, prayer, and other acts of faith are not only not on their radar, but have been causes for minor mockery to large arguments.

In a very real sense, I am the man whose foes are of his own household. In fact, as I was growing up, the stronger my faith, the worse my relationship with members of my family. Now I realize that I am not living in Biblical times. I do not rely on my family to provide a home, monetary stability and the ability to participate in social and civic events. I am not shunned for my single, childless state, but it is at times like this that the difference between those with a family and those without becomes a much starker contrast.

Here I am at 50 with no children of my own, no spouse, no close family members. This is difficult enough when it comes to financial matters but somewhat paralyzing when it comes to life and death matters.

The reality is nobody wants to die alone or know that the fate of their lives may be in the hands of someone who has not real connection to them. We want that Hollywood emergency room scene where the family comes running in to spend even a moment with a loved one who may not make it. But if you’re me, who is it that will come running?

I don’t doubt that God will be with me every step of the way and He will provide His angels for me, but the knowledge of His presence doesn’t ease the sense of loneliness when I struggle with a health condition or a waning bank account.

I don’t say these things to invoke pity or sympathy, but to remind both myself and all of you that these are the things that many in our congregation face. Many of us are spouseless, childless or have strained or nonexistent relationships with family. We are, for all intents and purposes, the widows and orphans Jesus speaks of and it is for us that churches are supposed to exist.

In church, widows and orphans are given a sense of community; we are able to find people who are caring, loving, and willing to take on burdens far beyond those that others would. But as a congregation we cannot do that if we do not make ourselves available. Standing in the common area before or after church doesn’t create that community. What does create community is trying to understand what burdens being single may cause or what trials strife amongst family members can create. Community is seeing the individual for who they are and where they are.

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Perhaps there are others around you that have chosen to be single or are isolated from their families. Reach out. Pray with them or for them. Offer to have that elderly gentleman seated all alone in the restaurant a seat at your family table. Sit with the one who found out that life has changed forever in the blink of an eye. Most of all, remember to be the arms of Christ to others. In the grand scheme of things, this is all we are really called to do – to love one another by showing one another God’s love.

Now….who wants to sign my advanced directive??? 😉

Risen….AGAIN

1-1-1-1-He-is-RisenThe Lord Has Risen!

The Lord Has Risen, Indeed, Alleluia!

That was the call and response heard over and over again at my church and many others around the globe this past week for Easter. In my church, our priest was pretty gung-ho about making sure that those words were as engrained in our hearts and minds as possible by the time we left services so I believe made that call and response at least 20 times in each service.

But then, these words should be shouted from the rooftops over and over, shouldn’t they? After all, we as Christians believe in a God who is not dead but is alive with us each and every day because of the joyous blessing of His rising from the dead and defeating the enemy. His death also gives us each the ability to be resurrected from our “dead”, sinful selves when we choose to walk with Him.

But I often wonder if we as Christians do a disservice to ourselves and our non-believing friends and associates when we stop with the Resurrection. We proclaim over and over that our God is alive and risen from the dead and as a result, we, too, will rise from the dead on the last day…

…but that doesn’t mean that we have already been resurrected nor does it mean that we, like Christ, only need that one miraculous act.

I know. You’re getting ready to fight me on this so let me explain a bit.

First, lets start with Jesus.

Jesus was and is God. Always was and always will be. He came to earth in the form of man, but while He experienced the struggles and pain of being man, He didn’t fail; He didn’t sin. He only needed to die and be resurrected once because He was and is perfect.

We, however are not.

While we are created in God’s image, we have been nor will we ever be perfect . Because of this, our “resurrection” needs to a continual process, not a once and done type of prospect. Sure, we will die a physical death and the resurrection from that death will only occur once, but we need to die to our mortal, sinful natures over and over and OVER again. Our lusts, our greed, our selfishness and self-absorbed lifestyle all return, they don’t suddenly get whisked away from us when we choose to follow Christ. If anything, they become more firmly entrenched as part of our personality and we have to work that much harder to die to them and be resurrected again as a more Christ-like person. It’s an ongoing process – at least it is for me. Let’s take my recent bout of self-pity as an example.

As you may have read recently, I had come to the difficult decision to move away from my lovely little apartment and make some significant life changes to put myself in a better financial position. I was not happy about this new reality and have been kicking and whining about it for several weeks now. Whining to just about anyone who would listen.

Why do I have to move?stopwhining

Why can’t I make more money?

Why do I have to always be struggling?

Poor, poor, pitiful me.

Honestly, I was sick of hearing it so I can only imagine how sick of it those around me were. For any of you who have had to struggle through my temper tantrum about this, I truly apologize.

I finally realized that I had to die to the selfishness that I was feeling; to turn away from feeling sorry for myself for not being able to find the perfect, pretty little apartment I saw myself in with all of the bells and whistles I currently have – or more – allowing me to seamlessly move from one place to another, saving me money but not forcing me to make any other life adjustments.

I was clearly delusional and Sunday morning in the middle of the second service I suddenly saw just how much of a temper tantrum I had been throwing and how many of the Lords’ blessings I had been choosing to turn a blind eye to. I needed to be “resurrected” from this death spiral of self-pity and see the numerous blessings that were being put right smack-dab in front of me.

For example, about a year ago I left a much higher-paying position because of the extreme stress it caused and the health problems I developed as a result. God blessed me with a wonderful job I have a wonderful job which allows me to do work that I am good at for people who I truly enjoy and that appreciate me for what I am able to do in an organization that is nurturing, positive and relatively stress-free.

Also, because of this great job, I have the ABILITY to put a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back. I am not in danger, I am not starving and I am not living hand to mouth. I may be living squarely in the paycheck to paycheck segment of society but that can be said for many of the people I know so I can clearly not in them minority.

But let me tell you – that is certainly neither how it looked or felt these past several weeks. I felt distraught, unable to have the life that is being portrayed in all the pretty pictures on-line and in my head. I listened to the whining of others around me and absorbed their negativity into my own thoughts. I became like the Israelites, constantly being given what I asked for and then complaining it wasn’t what I wanted.

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And it is for this reason that I, and I believe most likely you as well, need to be continually “resurrected”. I need to die to these little (or big) failings and come back to the Lord again and again for forgiveness, guidance and direction. Most importantly, I cannot for a minute either as though this is not the case because to do so provides all of the ammunition any non-believer would ever need to throw in my face as evidence against my loving, living God. Just because I believe in God and am saved by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, does not mean that I am on equal footing with Him. I am still living a human, mortal life and will continue to have the same issues that anyone else does. What makes life different as a Christian is that I have the ability to be raised over and over from my failures and hopefully learn how to make each fall a little smaller or each climb up from my fall a little faster.

I hope that as you read this, you have been both blessed by Jesus’ Resurrection and encouraged by the thought that we all can be resurrected from our own small deaths each and every day.

A house is just a house

logo_new04-300x300Its a cold and dreary day here today which seems appropriate since I’m feeling a little dreary myself. It’s not that there’s really anything wrong, per se, but I am in a place where I need to make a change in my life that I don’t want to make

I’m going to have to move.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve been in the same place ever since I moved back home and my little apartment has become a cocoon; a safety zone for me that I just don’t feel ready to abandon just yet.

As I sat and thought about it last night, looking at the fairly limited options I have available to  me in this incredibly difficult rental market, I suddenly hearkened back to the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “A House is Not A Home” and began to wonder what exactly does make a home? Is it the furnishings? The location? The song suggests that the house is not a home without that special person there. Does that mean that a house (or apartment) where a single person lives can’t be a home? Does the love I have for my dog mean the same for creating a loving, “homey” space as that between two people?

I would have to vehemently say that a house can be a home regardless of the number of human beings that reside in said building. I have lived alone for nearly 10 years now and absolutely consider my current apartment more than just a set of walls that provide shelter from the elements. My little 800 square feet is a place that I not only feel free to be myself but I where I am comfortable having others in. I have friends there and have broadened my “family” with the people that surround me in the complex. I mean, sure, there are many people with whom I’ve never even nodded hello, but many of the people have become part of my day to day existence and the thought of having to give that up is painful.

Even as I type this, I realize how silly this all sounds. People move all the time and it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, it can be fun! The start of a whole new adventure! I know this…I truly do, and yet, I am still struggling.

Its not just the process of having to find a new place to live that is more within my budget in a part of town I don’t know surrounded by people I don’t know (although that is, honestly, enough to keep me up at night…and has on many occasions lately). More than that, it’s the need to pick up yet again and start over; to find my way by myself one more time; having to start over yet again to develop a feeling of safety and security in a new place.

Safety and security are not things that I have ever had the luxury of taking for granted. While I certainly recognize that I am blessed, having not been not raised nor ever having lived in a war torn nation threatened by bullets and bombs or having ever lived in the inner city surrounded by gang violence and drugs, I have spent much of my life feeling the need to be perpetually “on guard”, ready and waiting for the next threat to appear.

The thing is, that over the last 4 years, I have been able to stabilize my life; to remove those things that were a threat to me in one way or another and I have been able to just rest in the quiet and calm of safety.

And not I have to shake things up all over again.

I have cried, I have run countless numbers on paper and in my head trying to figure out ways to avoid this new reality, and I keep coming back to the same place.

I have to move.

Of course, God had a bit to say about my moping and whining.

He reminded me that much as I hate the idea of moving, this coming move is like the Spring which has just started. It is full of unknowns and uncertainty, but more than that, it is full of promise. The buds on the trees and flowers, which may well freeze over the next day or two, still took the risk to come out and despite their early appearance, their eagerness will not be in vain. The promises of tomorrow don’t go away just because of a little dreariness or down-trodenness.  They are all there waiting with joy and expectation and sometimes the come in the most unusual packages…

…like a little mud and saliva…or the end of a lease.

The bottom line is this. God can us anything to show us his grace, mercy and love. Sometimes its a big, wonderful rainbow of glorious color that is seen by everyone but sometimes its just a little mud and saliva that is wiped on our eyes to clear away our inability to see the things right in front of us. The mud that God is using for me at this moment is my lease.

Maybe I will find a way to stay where I am, or maybe, just maybe, I will find someplace that is so much more than I could have expected. What I have to do is to stop whining about the why’s and what if’s and choose instead to acknowledge the fact that God loves me and has a plan for me that is greater than my blind little eyes can see in their current state. I have to choose to see that a home is a house with GOD in it and the location of that home doesn’t matter.

Where are you in this Spring season? Are you relishing in the joys of the season or complaining (like me) about the changes that come with it? Regardless of your answer, know that God is with you and waiting for you – like me – to make the choice to see Him in it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Satan Made Me Do It

the_devil_made_me_do_it_300_300_90I had never met him. In fact, as far as I am aware, I had never seen him before so it was odd that the sight of this individual would have such a profound impact on me. But as I watched him that day, just sitting and swinging his legs like a small child on a very large chair, my heart broke for him and I ached to be able to reach out to him and let him know he was not alone; that whatever was happening in his life at that time was not worth the path that he was contemplating.

There was certainly nothing I could do for him. I was trapped on the other side of a computer screen and the seemingly endless 3 minutes or so of video I was watching had already happened. This man – this poor soul – had jumped to his death off the top of a building in downtown Denver while professionals tried to reason with him and others couldn’t tear their eyes away from the disaster that was impending.

I don’t know what caused the person to video the event. Some part of me was angry that he or she chose to do so. What if this man has family that will come across this video time and again to remind them of the horrible end of their loved one’s life? Did he or she have no compassion for the people that were involved?

In hindsight, I get it. It is our human nature to be unable to turn away from such events. We are captivated by the drama and need for whatever reason to see the events to their end. After all, there was likely nothing the person filming could do to prevent the end result but some part of me even now is angry and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to find the root of that anger.

I have come to realized that part of my anger is still with the person who chose to film such an intimate and horrible event; to put it on the internet so that it would be something people would laugh about and gossip about over and over again. I suppose for me, it is not in my being to decide to turn on the video recorder on my phone to capture the worst moments of a persons life. That’s one reason I decided a long time ago that though I loved to write, I could never become a journalist. My need to know and reflect out to others the things that happen around me does not go so far as encompass the need to rip open wounds over and over again, degrading others pain to entertainment for the masses. I realize that definitely makes me a minority in our culture. After all, for the most part, we are a culture of that thrives on the expl95a8e04a0b0eb94c9eaef9a25985714coitation of others suffering for either our own personal agenda or political motivations. We want to push the envelope; force others to see things the way we see them regardless of the pain or discomfort it may cause. Gone are the days when being sensitive to another took precedence over getting the story out. Why is this?

I actually feel I have an answer for this and it is this answer that is the larger part of my anger about the suicide of this unknown man lies.

It’s all Satan’s fault.

No, seriously.

It’s not that Satan makes us do things that we otherwise wouldn’t do or that we are incapable of making choices for ourselves, but rather that Satan has the uncanny ability to place in front of us the one thing that we truly need or desire and convince us that his way of getting to that item or destination is so much easier and better than whatever we believe God may have in store for us. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take this season of Lent as an example.

During a recent sermon at my church, our congregation was reminded that during Lent, we are perhaps more tempted by things in our lives than at any other time during the year. Those things that we identify as being a distraction for us or that we may have an unhealthy appetite for us suddenly become the primary item in our feeds on social media, the center of office discussions, and the ever present niggling in our brain as we sit at home. Like Adam and Eve at the time of the “fall” believe that we are somehow missing out on something greater; that somehow the piece of chocolate given to you during Lent is 100 times better than the piece you had the Tuesday before Lent began. Or that somehow during Lent, you will miss out on the greatest newsfeed EVER on Facebook – that things will be said or revealed that you will never know about and your life will be forever changed because of it.

Way4d58fbd5a250b4a1e543b6060012b368 back in the garden of Eden, the serpent planted a seed of doubt that Eve, Adam, and ultimately each of us carry with us – the seed of doubt. Each day we question whether God is truly giving us all the good things that He could.  Surely, if God were the real, loving God that I am told He is, I would be able to eat that apple and there would be no consequences. He just doesn’t want to share all of the goodness there is with me. Surely if God were truly giving me all of the blessings He promised, I wouldn’t have to work so hard or suffer. Surely if I were the child of a loving God, I would feel happiness every moment of every day.

Even if you don’t think these things every day (though if you’re like me, some form of these statements comes to mind all the time), the seed of doubt against God has been planted and as a result, each of us starts to look for something else. We look to the charismatic speakers who promise our lives will be easier if we only do “x”. We are lured away by the suggestion of quick fixes and fast money; of the ultimate “high”, the most amazing sex, or the ability to do what we want when we want without cost. We are, after all, free beings – God gave us freedom of choice so we could find these easier, faster solutions, right?

Wrong.

Those shiny new toys – the get rich quick schemes, the instant weight loss products, the promise of fame and fortune – all of these things are given to us by Satan to lure us away from the true light in our life; to distract us from the One that can carry us through the challenging times and give us a life that is fulfilling, not empty. And it is because of those shiny new toys that some of us end up sitting on the top of a tall building, leaping to our death. We finally get to the end of the tunnel that we have been lured down and see the destruction our selfish, self-serving acts have caused and we aren’t able to find a way back out. Or get to the middle of the road, realize how lost we truly are and hear Satan tell us that God would never take us back now, we’ve fallen too far.

The reality is that God will always welcome us back with open arms and a joyful heart. He isn’t counting the errors we have made or withholding from us the joys of this world so He can have something to lure us to the next destination of our journey. We all find this hard to believe because if it were us, we would do that to some extent or another.

But we aren’t God.

God is the one waiting to catch us when we fall. Even that poor soul on the top of the 7eff21787b1de4552b6ed5c8152dddbfbuilding was God’s child and God wept when his son chose that end to the live he had been given. My prayer for each one of you who so kindly read these words is that whatever negative thoughts the world has convinced you to think about yourself or your life that you will turn away from the empty (but alluring) promises that Satan has been whispering in your ears and turn instead to honesty that is with God alone. And please, please! If you feel you are near to stepping off the edge, reach out. Someone – me, your family, friends, a church, the stranger on the street – SOMEONE is there to catch you. Don’t let Satan win.